I wore old fashioned black shorts and monochrome jersey, both of which got washed now and then since we were on the road for 22 days. For shoes I used AVO30 touring shoes because I don't like to carry an extra pair of shoes just for walking in town. They also work better on mountain passes whose summits are no more than trails, and most hotels don't allow cleats on their floors.
I used a Rollei 35 that ate up about 6 rolls of 36x Kodachrome 64. The camera resides in my jersey pocket on a lanyard around my neck. I use travelers checks and plastic (which is becoming popular even in remote areas). I speak German and fragments of French and Italian (like room, food, dinner, and counting). Thanks to Campagnolo, I know most of the parts of the bicycle in Italian.
(1) We started from Affoltern am Albis, near Zurich, heading over to canton Aargau and thence to Lucerne to drop in on friends. We rode up the valley past Sarnen along the Sarnenersee to Giswil from whence the road climbs sharply to the Lungernsee and then over the Brunig Pass to Meiringen where we took in a strawberry sundae at the Migros sweets counter before climbing over the Grosse Scheidegg toward Grindelwald. At the summit, the Wetterhorn and Eiger-Moench-Jungfrau group made a beautiful panorama in spite of rain. We descended to Grindelwald and then Interlaken that lies between the lakes of Brienz and Thun through which the Aar river flows. From here we rode around the lake to stop in Brienz for the first stage.
(2) Under sunny skies, we picked off the Grimsel, Furka and Gotthard passes with magnificent weather. From the top of the Furka we saw the usual icy fog boiling off the Grimsel into the Rhone valley where it evaporated just before reaching the valley. As we rode down the new highway from the summit, we stopped for a magnificent photo on the flying hairpin with what appears to be a free fall to the roofs of Fontana 750m below. Going down the old Gotthard on the cobbles from the Fortezza was a stiff massage. We rolled swiftly on down the Valle Laventina along the cascading Ticino into the warm south stopping briefly in Faido before continuing to the valley floor at Biasca. Biasca, where a great waterfall takes many cascades before splitting in two to cross over itself on the last fall to the valley.
(3) The next two days were comparatively long and flat down the east shore of Lago Maggiore under chestnut trees into Italy and on to Luino from where we took a side trip to Cittiglio to the museum of Alfredo Binda whose name was more recently known through the top quality leather foot straps of that name that, along with the Chreistophe steel toeclip, mostly vanished with the advent of the step in pedal. The museum had an array of old bikes and faded jerseys and posters, one of which proclaims a "Grande Americana" in Milano, otherwise known as a six day race.
Back to the lake for a dip and then take a ferry from Laveno across to Verbania where the Toce from the Val d'Ossola flows into the lake. Up the valley we turned south to Omegna and along the Lago d'Orta for another refreshing swim. Heading west into the hills through Pogno, we climbed through the chestnut forested foothills to Borgosesia where we found good food and lodging just beyond the bridge over the Sesia.
(4) The next day we rode through hill towns of the Piemonte, through Biella and down to the flatlands crossing the Dora Baltea river in Ivrea, the narrows of the Val d'Aosta. From there we rode easily with a slight downgrade to the Po River and Torino, where on this clear day the glaciers of the Maritime Alps shimmered as a crown of diamonds to the west of the city. After lunch we headed south to Cuneo and Borgo San Dalmazzo for a long flat day.
We crossed the high stone-arch double decked bridge that carries the highway and railway over the Stura di Demonte into Cuneo. Here we were back in the hills and at the foot of the Colle de Tenda. Just beyond Borgo San Dalmazzo, up the Vermegnania river in Robilante we noticed an ancient and cavernous chain saw store with thousands of used and new chain saws. I found this interesting because 1. I have never seen so many different kinds of chain saws from around the world, and 2. there are no forests nearby. We found good company and food in the Albergo Ristorante Aquila Riale, where we joined the regulars in the back dining room with sports TV drowned out by lively discussions.
(5) The Colle de Tenda is a classic that, when seen in photos, just makes you want to go there and ride it. After the tunnel was built in 1882, the road over the top (1908m) remained as it was, a one lane 100 hairpin rocky road. The south side makes a spectacular scene, while the north side winds through a ski area, paved and with mild grades. The tunnel is for motor vehicles only. After cruising down the narrow canyon of the Roya river, we turned west at Breil over the Col de Braus to Sospel. Here vegetation is sparse on hillsides of olives and bright yellow gorse (Scotch broom). After a large dish of ice cream at the tavern at the road junction, we headed up the Brauis on the way to the Turini Pass of Monte Carlo Rallye fame.
From our balcony that evening, high on the ridge in Piera Cava, our view reached to the Mediterranean sea where a thunder storm approaching from the west slowly blotted out the scene as a cuckoo serenaded us from the forest below. We savored an ample dinner with wine, delicious soup, beef and potatoes and a desert of wine and cheese.
(6) After a short climb of about 400m, our road came in at the summit of the Turini, whose north slope we descended to the Vesubie River. From here, it was a gradual climb up the valley to St Michel at the foot of the Colmain, a pass that crosses the ridge to the Tinee river and Rt N2205 to the Col de La Bonnet. The Bonnet gets billing as being 2880m high but that's only if you go to the vista point that is more than 100m higher than the summit gap. Although high, this pass is high alpine meadowland with no glaciers, probably because it is so close to the sea. Although long, it is not an especially scenic route but it hold a special attraction for bicyclists. The descent to Jausiers is barely paved for a large part but toward the bottom it becomes extra wide and well paved. At the junction with Rt N902 (le Route des Grande Alps) just above Jausiers, we turned north to stop at la Condamine-Chatelard at the Hotel du Midi where a huge slobbering Pyrenees dog greets guests. We ate dinner nearby at a great pizza shop having always eaten at the hotel before.
(7) The morning was sunny and breezy in spite of rain during the night. Just above town, great fortifications cover the walls of the canyon in Maginot style with tunnels and gun ports, a silent monument of past wars, bullet holes still sprayed across the walls of the stone barracks. We passed the junction with the Col de Larche, where most traffic goes to Torino, as we proceeded on empty Rt N902 toward the Col de Vars. After leaving the Ubey valley at St Paul, the road traverses a huge, still mobile, slide area, sometimes flat and steep at others with cracks in the pavement. This has been going on for as long as I can recall and may explain why no towns lie between St Paul and Melezen, at opposite ends of the valley.
The summit was unchanged from the first time I had seen it 30 years ago, with the same curio shop in a sheet metal lean-to against a stone revetment. We rolled down to Guillestre for lunch and then through the canyon of the Guil river to the moon like landscape of the Izoard. A bicycle racing museum at the top of the Izoard full of some TdF lore and memorabilia was just opened recently but the contents seem more to be promotional for a couple of French bicycle firms than a true museum. After taking summit pictures at the obelisk, we headed down to Briancon, a great tourist hub. From here it's a long gradual climb to the day's stop at the Hotel des Glaciers at the summit of the Col de Lauteret. Paul Bonnabel, the innkeeper, is a dead ringer for Inspector Cluseau but he runs a superior lodge with fine food and comfortable accommodations. This is a hotel not to be missed if the opportunity arises.
(8) On a brilliantly clear morning, the climb up the Galibier was literally a breeze in spite of which we were able to get only 45 mph into Valloire before climbing the Telegraph (a subset of the Galibier). From the telegraph the road descends in a series of hairpin turns through a pine forest to St Michel du Maurienne on the Arc river. The main railway from Grenoble to Torino and the highway run next to the river here up to Modane at the west portal of the Railway and highway Frejus tunnels to Italy.
A thunderstorm darkened the sky behind as we rode under blue skies and sunshine along the Arc through Modane and up over the narrows at Avrieux up to Termignon on the way to the junction of the Col du Mt Cenis and Col d'Iseran in Lanslebourg. The first big drops began to fall as we cruised up the main street of Lanslebourg with a gusty tailwind. We ducked into a Gelateria for a big dish of ice cream and watched as 15 minutes of heavy downpour went by. We pulled out onto a drenched and steaming road under bright sunshine, black clouds and thunder moving eastward ahead. We climbed the Madeleine a little steep bump on our way to Bonneval sur Arc at the base of the Iseran pass.
The Iseran probably earns the "highest pass in France" title, being actually higher and because it is steep, spectacular, and is surrounded by glaciers and snow. When you're there you know there's a There there. This is truly the haute Savoie, whose red and white emblem was the inspiration for the emigrants who took their red flag with the white cross along as they founded Switzerland. The tunnel below Val d'Isere is now lighted and is no longer the trap for unwary bicyclists that it once was. We stopped for the day at the base of the Col du Petite St Bernard in Seez.
(9) The Petite St. Bernard is a cruiser pass, with a seemingly endless but mild grade. On the summit, Mont Blanc/Monte Bianco made a grand white appearance to the north just after we passed the monastery. Alas, we saw none of the dogs with mini barrels of brandy to rescue stranded travelers. We cruised down the hill and turned up the valley to Courmayeur (Italy) at the south portal of the Mont Blanc tunnel. Here French is spoken but Italian is eaten in most restaurants. We downed a big spaghetti lunch and rolled west to the Col de la Seigne that climbs up the Val Veny to the west.
The east end of the valley, the Val Ferret, leads to the Col Ferret, a similar but steeper hiking path than the Seigne. We rode most of the way but the last part of the Seigne a bit too steep and rocky for our strength and equipment, but to make up for that, the downhill was all ridable except for a roaring stream crossing. The scenery is about as wild and full of glaciers as one can want. We finished the day by crossing the Cormet de Roselend to Beaufort from whence the cheese gets its name. This was not a 160km day but it was a 4000m climb day. Later, Beaufort gave us a great thunder and lightning concert with an intense downpour at midnight and again before dawn, followed by clear skies.
(10) We started right out with a climb up the Saisies pass at Megeve and curved around the mountain to St Gervais and on to Chamonix where we viewed the scenes for which that area is so well known. From Fayet, we rode up aerial half of a split right-of-way highway to get to Chamonix. If you know this is the route, it saves time by not wasting time finding another route. The shoulder is wide and the road a pleasant grade. Mont Blanc was just as impressive from this side as it was from the south and west as we rode through Chamonix and Argentier to climb over the Col des Montets into Switzerland.
Instead of climbing over the La Forclaz pass from Chatelard, we took an obscure but elegant road from Fin Haute to Martigny. The road is only open for non motorized traffic and authorized vehicles. In contrast, the Col de la Forclaz, that I had seen before and would rather skip, climbs another few hundred meters before an uneventful descent through steep south slope vineyards. As is usual in the summer, a strong wind blew up the Rhone valley to push us to Susten where the hotel is old, quiet and comfortable, and they treat you like family.
(11) The Rhone valley was literally a breeze to Brig as it often is. Here we got a snack and headed up the Simplon pass in cool weather with a few clouds for shade. On the summit we tanked up on Orangina and a great dish of pasta on a scenic terrace. The breeze stayed as we achieved great speeds down the grand canyon of the Simplon. Huge sheer, Yosemite like granite walls that come together at the bottom to force the roaring Divera river into a deep granite crevasse above which the road crosses between tunnels, tunnels primarily for rock and avalanche protection. In earlier years, when it was not an all year road, this part was mostly in the open.
I am always amazed how the ancients made it through here with their wagons. The RR does the whole thing underneath in the twin 20km long parallel tunnels built in 1898 and 1921. We executed the required "Varzo sprint" on which we kept the big gear that works so well on the descent going over the climb at city limits. We turned southeast at Crevoladossola to Masera and through the Centovalli to Locarno. After Locarno it was a dash around Lago Maggiore to Bellinzona and up to Mesocco for the days stop. This put us on the slopes of the San Bernardino Pass where Andy Hampsten pulled off his big move in the Tour de Suisse.
(12) The San Bernardino and Splugen passes were overcast but exhilarating with bursts of sunshine between rain squalls. Both passes are scenically magnificent. The Splugen has an specially exciting descent where it drops down a granite wall in serpentines stacked in tunnels and snow sheds, one over the other. It takes a jaded tourist to be unimpressed by such roads. The rains came just before the bottom of the grade at Chiavenna, but gently. This made the climb up the Maloja pass a cool one, but with only a drizzle.
At the top of the hill the snowline was obviously only a few meters above. With a favorable breeze we blasted along the Silser, Silvaplana and St Moritz lakes past St Moritz to Samedan where we stayed in the great old Hotel zum Weissen Kreuz, in the center of town, next to the church. This is an old hostelry with attached barn that still smells of drying hay. Our bicycles were well parked.
(13) Although it was still cool and drizzling a bit on the morning of the rest day, it cleared up with brisk clear weather to expose the snow line that was just above where the clouds had been. This gave the mountains a thin white coat of paint that lasted about as long as it took for the sun to come out.
(14) The next day we rode over the Bernina pass, with Piz Bernina, Piz Palu and the Diavolezza dazzling white. We took obligatory photos of the bright red Bernina Express against the backdrop of the glistening Morteratsch glacier as a as it climbed the 7% grade of the Montebello curve. A picture right out of a Swiss calendar.
After an easy ride to the summit we sped down the south side of the Bernina, one of the longest descents around, to Tirano Italy. From there it was down the valley to Stazzona and up the Aprica pass to 'Edolo. From 'Edolo it's a gradual climb to Ponte di Legno at the foot of the Gavia and Tonale passes. We stopped at Apollonia for a drink of the rusty and fizzy water of the two springs in the gazebo to strengthen the heart, as they say, and up the hill we went. This, the south side, was still largely unpaved but otherwise the Gavia has been tamed.
At the summit, in the Rifugio di Bonetta, my poster photo of the old road notched into the cliff is on display under glass, to which the innkeeper poured us a drink on the house as always. Although little wider than one full lane, the descent is pretty sano (all paved) and zips right down to Santa Caterina where the road returns to civilized dimensions. The section to Bormio is pretty swift. From there we finished about 2/3 up the Valdidentro toward the Foscagno pass stopping at the La Pre Bianca (white hare) hotel in Somogo.
(14) In the morning we rode up to the hairpin turn where an dirt road crosses, heading westerly up the Val Viola to Passo Val Viola, and easterly, an AEM (Milano Electric) hydro road that runs as level as an aqueduct back along the Valdidentro above Bormio. The road turns and enters a canyon with rough hewn tunnels to just below the Lago di Cancano and Lago di S. Giacomo that supply power to the city as the Hetch Hetchy reservoir does in the Sierra for San Francisco, far away in beautiful mountains. From far end of the upper lake, the the Passo Alpisella, an unused Roman road cuts through the mountains to Livigno over spectacular terrain above the headwaters of the Adda.
This is a road that becomes a trail on the north slope at a point from which fools with cars cannot return. Two wrecks were still visible in places that leave me guessing how their drivers got as far as they did. From Livigno, where we ate lunch at the market, we rode along the lago di Livigno that lies mostly in Italy but also in Switzerland, the dam being on the border. After crossing the dam we paid our toll Sfr 1.00 to take the 2km downhill tunnel (part of the hydro project) to the Ofen Pass in Switzerland. After a short climb through a national park to the summit, it's a swift descent into Santa Maria at the foot of the Umbrail Pass. The Umbrail is well named because it goes up a narrow gorge that is mostly shaded by the steep slopes as it makes its way to the Stelvio, its crest being 256m lower. This day was a classic "shortcut to school" from Bormio to the Stelvio via the Alpisella, Ofen, and Umbrail passes, but still fun adventure.
The Stelvio may not be the hardest, longest or anything else, but it has a special place in my heart for its magnificent and exquisitely orchestrated landscape. It seems to have its own Wagnerian accompaniment, magnificent and grand. I have ridden it in every weather and it is always an emotional moment at the top with the ice caps of the Ortler and snowfields of the Gran Zebru as a backdrop to the road that drops 1000m into the canyon in the Shadows of this deep ravine. Forty nine numbered hairpin turns and 2000m below lies the valley. It was a magnificent day as we descended to Prato and on down the Vintschgau to Naturno where we found a great bakery and private residence for the night.
(15) In the morning we cruised on down the Val Venosta, before the wind began its usual blow up the valley, to Merano. After looking over the produce market and main street, we headed up the Passeiertal to St Leonhard and the Giovo pass. It was a sunny day and as we were making good time up the mountain when a driver, who looked over his shoulder before passing, got too close and collapsed Peter's rear wheel into the deepest smooth pretzel I've seen. The guy was apologetic as hell and gave us DM120 (being a German) and offered to give us a ride to town, that wouldn't have helped, it being Sunday.
We thanked him for the good will gesture and sent him off while I took to heart the words that I had written about such a repair. The reconstructed wheel was only noticeably lumpy to someone who knew it had had a disaster. We swished down the north slope of the Giovo (Jaufen), turning right before Sterzing to go over the not insignificant Passo di Pennes for a great high speed descent with the wind down the Sarntal where we spent the night at Ponticino in a hotel where I had stayed a few times before years ago.
(16) It was only a short coast down to Bolzano in the morning, but first there were "the tunnels". There were once 21 tunnels at the narrow outlet of this beautiful broad valley, but in 1984 landslides blocked the tunnels. Rather than dig out the portals several tunnels were combined into two long ones, from the entrance of one, through to the exit of another. The short tunnels at the ends unfortunately were curved so there is no light once inside. Now there are 14 tunnels. I have used my tire pump as a blind man's stick, sliding it along in the groove of the guard rail that lines these bare rock bores, walking in total darkness. If a car volunteers to light the tunnel, you can ride. This time we rode, thanks!
Bolzano isn't much on Sunday, but its beauty is worth a visit even when the shops are closed. We got a snack and headed up the Passo Costalunga that heads up the Eggental through a dark and sheer walled canyon that holds the road on a shelf or a tunnel or a bridge. After the 16% canyon it gets pretty civilized as it heads into the Dolomites. Near the summit, the beautiful deep azure waters of the lago di Carezza forms a natural reflecting pool for the Lattimer with its thousand spires. The color of the water has fanciful origins in the local mythology. As we came out of the forest below the summit, the Rosengarten with nearly vertical walls rises in majestic splendor, and is aptly named for it's entrancing light show over wildflower fields as it glows in gold, red, and finally deep purple in the setting sun. Enough to move the hardest hearts to rapture.
The Nigerjoch road from Tieres comes from the north a few hundred meters before the summit. This is the road that rises from the Eisack valley with a long 24% pitch that levels off just before Tieres. About a kilometer beyond the summit a panorama of breathtaking mountains opens to include the the Marmolada and its glacier and many peaks around the horizon. In Canazei, just below the Sella Group, we took in a grocery store lunch before riding up the Sella, Gardena, Campolongo, and the Pordoi back to Canazei, for a once around the Sella ride. This is a great loop from any of the four corners. We ended the day at the base of the Fedaia pass under the shadow of the Marmolada where we found an Italo/English hotel where we caught the Grand Prix auto race of the day with Alain Prost #1, then some cricket, some TdF, and later, the final match of the World Soccer match. Being the only guests, the host adjusted his mini-dish antenna to the British satellite for our convenience.
(17) An early climb up the Fedaia to the base of the Marmolada and its summer skiing, made a good start for a long day. We got passed by some fast guys who just went to the top for a few laps around the lake. The east side of this road has the 100km/h feature that is seldom found on mountain roads. A 13%+ grade and straight for about a kilometer into Malga. It usually gets you all the speed you ever wanted but we ran into a 10mph breeze that slowed us down accordingly. Just the same it felt plenty fast because our wind speed was the same.
On down the deep dark gorge on the old road to Caprile and up over the Telegraph to the Passo Giau with its magnificent view of Cortina d'Ampezzo and the surrounding crags of a million spires. After descending to Cortina, we rode over the Passo Tre Croci and Misurina passes through the highlights of Dolomites. I get all choked up when I stand on the edge of one of those passes and see this magnificent panorama spread in all its glory. From here we went to Dobiacco and down to Lienz Austria, over the Iselsberg pass and up to the base of the Gross Glockner road to stop in Heiligenblut after a fabulous day.
(18) That night all hell came down from the sky and the next morning it was grey and drizzly. Up, up, and away, up a climb that has long sections of 12%, that unless it's sunny, doesn't do much for those who aren't just out for the exercise. The sun broke through once in a while, but it stayed pretty dark. At the summit tunnel we could hardly see the other end, it was so dark. We put on our descending gear with hooded jacket and gloves, for the wet, foggy and slow descent that is usually a swift ride. The mostly 12% grade will allow 80km/h any time, right now if you want. We didn't.
Near the bottom it lightened up as we watched riders, grinding up the hill, who didn't look equipped for coming back down from the wet and cold up there. I can only guess these guys had a follow car hidden somewhere. From Zell am See it was a pleasant roll up the valley to the old Gerlos pass, that has some 17% pitches but is otherwise a nice, little used, 1-1/2 lane road. The rain finally gave up completely after the summit as we descended through Gerlos and down to Zell in the the Zillertal. As we reached the Inn valley at Strass, it even got nice with some blue sky in the late afternoon light. We stopped in Hall just before Innsbruck and downed a huge meal befitting the day's ride.
(19) Bright sun and white billowing clouds were blowing our way as we rode past Innsbruck up the valley to Landeck and the Reschen pass. We had already seen the golden roof in Innsbruck so we didn't make the downtown loop. Traffic was light, and cool breezes made riding easy as we rode up to and over the broad Reschen summit, along the lake in which only a church steeple rises, where the village had been before the dam was built. From here it was all downhill to Prato at the foot of the Stelvio, where at 6PM we started up the hill in picture postcard clear weather. Having already done a usual days distance this was a beautiful peaceful climb that reminded me of the days when I was "young and beautiful". It was 30 years ago that I first rode up this hill and it hasn't lost anything in beauty but it took just over two hours of standing on the pedals. Then down the Umbrail pass to Santa Maria and a good nights sleep in Valchava.
(20) Being on the slope of the Ofen pass from which we again saw the Ortler, high above its surroundings, it was a quick steep ride to the top and down to Zernez, where we turned right down the Inn valley to Susch at the foot of the Fluela pass. The Ortler, that dominates the scene on the Stelvio was again visible as we climbed. We rode past the summit lakes that were still partly frozen and rode to Davos down the lack luster but swift descent. We rode around the Davosersee and over the Wolfgang pass, only a little bump from here, to descend to Klosters and on to Landquart in the Rhine valley. Here we met a brisk headwind that didn't let up until we turned the corner at Sargans. The Churfirsten, huge mountains that drop straight into the Walensee, made a beautiful backdrop to this deep blue lake as we rode along the south shore. We turned north into canton Glarus with its narrow valley between mountains whose heights vanish in the haze and glare of the sun.
At Linthal, at the end of the valley, the Klausen Pass climbs through tunnels up a wall with terraced meadows between hardwood forests. The road breaks out into a high valley, the Urner Boden, that leads to the last ascent. Although the valley is high, the crags on either side give a different perception with the Toedi and its huge glacier high above. After the summit, the real meaning of box canyon becomes clear as we looked straight down 500m onto the roofs of huts in the Schaechental, where waterfalls cascade from the glaciers above. The roadside railing of a two inch steel pipe four feet off the ground is not convincing as the road clings to the wall and cuts through tunnels. We rode part way down on this longest mountain stage of our trip to find good lodging in the ancient Posthotel Urigen. The innkeeper, Steffan Truschner, did his bakers apprenticeship, here in California, at Andre's Swiss Pastries in Menlo Park. At times the world is small.
(21) Urigen isn't at the bottom of the hill so it's a cool morning swish down to Unterschaechen, over the bump and down to Altdorf where we turned toward the Gotthard and Wassen up the narrow Reuss valley that gets little sun until mid day. The Susten pass road, that dives into the wall between looping railway bridges at Wassen, could probably be called the glacier highway of Switzerland. Wassen is the little town with the church that appears above, next to, and below, and on different sides, as the train loops its way up the Gotthard in double track looping tunnels.
The Susten pass has beautiful panoramas all the way on both sides with a tunnel at the summit that makes the "other" side a great surprise. Its a marvelous ride down to Inertkirchen through bare rock tunnels in esses and curves. Over the Lammi bump to Meiringen (the place where meringue was invented) famous for the Holmes and Moriarty death battle on the Reichenbach Waterfall. The Migros soda fountain on the main street makes masterful strawberry sundaes with heaps of fresh berries. From here, it's only a little 13% grunt over the Brunig pass and down to Lucerne for the dash back to Affoltern.
That was a bit over 3500km with plenty of climbing except for our two flat days. Some of my tours have been longer and some shorter but they are all great rides and on the last day my fatigue always catches up with me. I think it is mental. I had no flats and didn't pump a tire between leaving home and my return. Peter wasn't so lucky with one snake bite and a bent wheel. Otherwise all the tools were there just in case. Unlike last year we didn't get any snowfall, something that can pop up any time in the Alps.